Business owners often feel like they need to have all the answers. They want to get employees involved, but aren’t sure what that means or how to make that happen. They say things like “we need to figure things out first,” indicating they are either not including employees in the decisions or they are including employees too late in the process. If you have said or had similar thoughts, SLOW DOWN. You don’t have to come up with the answers yourself…….and you can often find a better solution involving others to appropriate degrees.

We compiled some practical tips to harness the creativity and energy of your employees. Not only do employees want to be helpful and productive in times of uncertainty, but you may find some untapped innovation in there, too.

Step 1: Identify the Decisions and Opportunities. Write down what decisions you are trying to make. Whenever you think “I need to figure out” or “I don’t know how we are going to” or “how will we…..” WRITE IT DOWN…..literally. Those are the opportunities to get your employees involved. The list could include things like:

How can we adjust operations to meet current community needs? How can we adjust operations to maintain sales when restrictions are put in place? What needs to be done if we have to close operations with limited notice? How can we reduce costs for the next 60 days? How can we continue to provide our services virtually? How can we continue to live our values within the community virtually?

Step 2: Determine Your Non-Negotiables. Prior to asking employees for their thoughts and perspectives, determine your non-negotiables. What is not an option to you, what would you not agree with or choose not to implement. Including employees in the decisions DOES NOT mean you give them full responsibility or that you have to go with the solutions provided. Your non-negotiables could be things like no increase in cost, needs to achieve a specific goal, etc.

Step 3: Reflect on Your Values. There is so much activity, so much noise, so many decisions. It is easy to fall into the trap of tactical decisions based on the environment or fear rather than your values. It is important to step back and reflect on what’s important to you and your business. Your values (what’s important to you) will guide you to the future.

Step 4: Provide the Big Picture. Start the conversation with the landscape (what’s the situation), the goals (what the business needs to accomplish near term) and your values (affirming that decisions moving forward will be based on values). Share the questions and opportunities you identified. Ask if there are other areas that you missed.

Step 5: Share Your Expectations. These are the expectations and boundaries. Explain what you want from them (ideas on how to proceed), your non-negotiables (what their boundaries are), and what you expect (that ideas should align with values). If you don’t If you don’t identify these ahead of time, they may not understand your reasoning if you need to say no. Expectations could include but are not limited to: Explain what you want from them (your expectations); Define your non-negotiables, including that solutions need to align with your business values. Communicate if solutions will be created in a large group, small group or individually. Share the timeline and how groups or individuals will share their ideas with you and others.

Step 6: Listen. Be open to ideas. If your first instinct is that you don’t agree, stop. Ask additional questions, like ‘tell me more about that’ or ‘how would this align with our values’ or ‘how would this work’. The goal is to understand and encourage ideas. You will be amazed by the creativity and thoughtfulness of your employees.

Step 7: Do It. Review the solutions with your employees and against the necessary outcomes, your non-negotiables and your values. Decide how and when to move forward — and DO IT.

As a business owner, you are creating an environment where your employees feel appreciated and valued. Trust will increase, employees will be engaged and working together. When these turbulent times are over, your employees will choose to stay.

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